A Writer’s (and Editor’s) Tool: A Subconscious Mind

By Stacy Melanie Jerger (@ApoideaEdits)

Photo courtesy of iStock

Photo courtesy of iStock

I want to talk about some amazing things that happen when we're neck-deep in writing and revision.

Stephen King had it right when he referred to “the boys in the basement” as a mode of creative process. The “boys” are the muse, the background noise of our consciousness, and a place where our imagination simmers.

Because of these “boys,” writing and developmental editing don’t always happen on a conscious level.

In preparation for NaNoWriMo, also known as NaNoPrep, I outlined a story structure, but left room for the unconscious to do what it does best: creative spontaneity and unplanned brilliance.

It’s one of the most satisfying discoveries as a writer.

The Gut Wants What the Gut Wants

NaNoWriMo and fast drafting, if you’ve never done them before, probably sound like madness. And in some ways they are. (Sometimes awesomeness is born from madness, right?) What I like most about this level of intense writing is how close I stay to the content.

When I’m writing, my story is at my focal awareness. When I’m not writing, the subconscious is working things out. Don't ignore that flutter in the periphery of your mind. Give it some attention. The moments of impulse and raw creativity will leap onto the page—and that’s a flavor we can’t always get when things are carefully planned.

Do Not Disturb: Mad Scientist at Work

Sometimes writing is like a study of cause and effect. We have a theory (idea) and we’re not afraid to prove its existence through words. But obstacles arise, struggles are fought. We pull at our hair and get the crazy eyes, lose hope and climb hills and hills of frustration as we try to write our way out of a problem.

And it’s then there’s that astonishingly beautiful moment at 2:00 AM when we figure it out. Thank you, subconscious! Suddenly everything becomes clear and the world is right. When moments like that happen, it’s not crazy to think we’re on the right path to brilliance as our unconscious and conscious minds high five.

Creativity, Are You Out There?

That said, I love a good plan that gives us direction and inspires creativity. I can internalize my experiences, habits, and skills in my writing as well as my developmental editing.

I come up with a working plan that keeps the author and me on track. But like a story outline, it’s okay to stray from the plan a little. After all, developmental editing can be a highly creative process as much as it can be a process of logical content organization.

My systematic side can play the well-mannered gentleman and let creativity in. Solutions and ideas come to me right away as I’m reading an author’s manuscript. But when I don’t have an immediate solution in mind, I sleep on it—and that’s when possibilities form subconsciously.

I can’t wait to share those possibilities with the author and discuss which direction he or she wants to go, and usually that leads to even more ideas and solutions!

The point is: plan as much as you can, but don’t underestimate the power of the subconscious mind. Do you sense that background noise? Your subconscious is working hard for you.

Have you had similar experiences? I’d love to hear about them!